JUL 09, 2017 2:13 PM PDT

How Lightning Bugs Get Their Glow On

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

As summer heats up, you've probably noticed more fireflies in your backyard. These creatures are most visible at the dusk twilight hours with their characteristic bursts of yellow flashing lights. But how does an animal create light?

The process is known as bioluminescence and it refers to chemical reactions within the organism that produce light. The reaction requires two chemicals: luciferin (the substrate) and either luciferase or a photoprotein (the catalyst). Luciferin is the protein responsible for the glow, and luciferase is the enzyme that makes the glow visible. The different hues of the glow - yellow in fireflies, and green in lanternfish - come from the chemical arrangement of luciferin.

Bioluminescent organisms are most abundant in the ocean, and they include some fish, jellies, and dinoflagellates. On land, bioluminescent organisms are limited to lightning bugs and fungi.

In some cases, the bioluminescent trait acts as a defensive adaptation to confuse attackers. But the trait can also be an offensive strategy to lure in preys. Still, some animals use their glow as a reproduction strategy. For example, when you see a firefly glow, it's usually a male bug signaling to females that they're interested.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 10, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Could There Be Life on Venus?
SEP 10, 2020
Could There Be Life on Venus?
Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, reaching 465 degrees Celcius- a temperature hot enough to melt lead. Wh ...
OCT 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
OCT 09, 2020
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
Researchers from the University of Bern in Germany have found that an exoplanet, known as WASP-121b, is so hot that it c ...
OCT 15, 2020
Health & Medicine
An Estimated 38 Million People were Exposed to Polluted Wildfire Smoke
OCT 15, 2020
An Estimated 38 Million People were Exposed to Polluted Wildfire Smoke
As wildfires continue to burn record-breaking acreages along the west coast of the United States and inland regions, hos ...
NOV 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Our Chemistry Connection to Stars and the Cosmo
NOV 27, 2020
Our Chemistry Connection to Stars and the Cosmo
A common entity that connects everything from majestically looking galaxies and nebula to the enormously diversified bio ...
DEC 15, 2020
Immunology
The Possibility of Improving an Older Adult's Response to Vaccines
DEC 15, 2020
The Possibility of Improving an Older Adult's Response to Vaccines
A recent study published in the eLife journal examined how they can improve older adults' responses to vaccines ...
MAR 26, 2021
Plants & Animals
Studies Confirm that Bottlenose Dolphins Vocalize to Synchronize Behaviors
MAR 26, 2021
Studies Confirm that Bottlenose Dolphins Vocalize to Synchronize Behaviors
The ability to communicate with one another to coordinate behaviors contributes to the success of social mammals, like b ...
Loading Comments...